By Jonah Naidoo, CEO of Mindworx
Now that President Ramaphosa has appointed his cabinet, it’s time to focus on the appointments that will make or break the South African economy: the leadership of our state owned enterprises (SOEs). Over the past year, while our president has done the important work of cleaning up the rot that set in during the years of state capture, our SOEs have stagnated. This is evident not just in pitiful service delivery but also in the lowest public sector spending in recent memory.
In some cases entire management teams have been fired or suspended, and many enterprises are simply not functioning because they no longer have decision-makers on board. Rebuilding them will take nothing less than South Africa’s most skilled, experienced and canny business minds if we are to undo the damage that has cost our country so much.
This is not the time for political appointments or generic talents. If we let this crucial moment of nation building go, we will have lost an opportunity that will not come again. Let’s be clear: there is no substitute for hard technical skills, for understanding the dynamics of the industry you’re working in. Rebuilding infrastructure needs a combination of engineering and business skills, SAA needs someone who knows airlines, Transnet someone who knows railways, and the head of our financial regulator needs to come from the finance sector. This applies across the public sector.
What’s more, industry-specific skills need to extend to entire management teams and across senior roles. Public enterprises routinely use consultants and this makes absolute sense when management teams need to be boosted by excellent technical support. But this is not just about filling immediate needs. Succession planning has not been a part of our SOE management for 20 years and it’s time for us to put meaningful planning in place so that our public sector never grinds to a halt again.
Heading our SOEs now is not a task for the faint-hearted. It’s dangerous territory. Unions and shareholders have run out of patience, as have voters, and who can blame them. By the same token, there has never been a better range of opportunities for senior and middle management in this country, and there has never been a better time for people to make their mark.
We have a strong pool of potential candidates in corporate South Africa and our industry is abuzz with head-hunters talking to them about stepping up, including a sudden rush of international firms into the market. But for all the reasons we’ve discussed, this cannot be business as usual.
We need far-sighted visionaries, courageous lion-hearted men and women who understand the essential role of the public sector in state development. We need people with stamina who understand South African politics and our recent history, people who are driven by a greater good. Above all, we need people who love this country enough to put themselves on the line for the higher purpose of rebuilding us.
Everyone in a senior management position in South Africa today should be thinking about the role they will play in South Africa’s future.
This article was published on BusinessLive.